Financial Thrillers

A Joe Robbins clip — Amateur Boxing

January 17

Boxer fighting

Boxer fighting

Fight Night

“Don’t knock him out too early,” Neil said.

I sat on the stool in the corner of the ring. Neil knelt before me and tightened the laces of my gloves. He had brown hair, a fat face, a pointy chin, and close-set eyes.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” I said.

The fighter across the ring was Hispanic, with short hair and a mean sneer. He had to be six-feet-five or -six and weighed two forty or more.

“He outweighs me by a good twenty pounds.”

Neil looked over his shoulder. “He’s a pussy. Just don’t go too hard too fast. That’s the only thing I’m worried about.”

“What about losing? You might worry about that.”

“Confidence, Joseph. Confidence.”

“Why don’t you call me Joe?” It was a back-and-forth line between Neil and me. He never called me Joe.

“Okay. . . . José.” He patted my cheek and gave me a broad grin. “My bet is as good as won.”

“I haven’t seen that dude around campus. Have you?”

The boxers were supposed to be students of the university. My opponent had tattoos that ran from inside his gloves to his shoulders. They were flames of orange and black.

Neil looked again. “Yeah, he might be a ringer. Maybe that’s why I got the two-to-one odds against you.”

We were the last fight of the night. Fight Night was a charity event run by fraternities at the University of Texas, Arlington. The ring was official size, centered in the ballroom of the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth. Four hundred spectators, mostly men, occupied the ballroom. They had paid a hundred and fifty bucks a seat to eat hotel steak, drink table wine, smoke cigars, and watch amateur boxing. It was between fights, and nobody paid us the slightest attention.

“Have you seen Rose?” I asked.

“Stop worrying about that chick, will ya? You’ll see her later at the house.”

“She said she might make it. I gave her a ticket.”

“Don’t even think about it. Focus on boxing. Try to knock him out in the third round. I have a side wager that the fight will go three rounds and another that you’ll knock him out.”

“I can’t stop thinking about her.”

Neil looked right in my face.

“Shut up. We can talk about that later . . . all night. Right now you need to concentrate on kicking this guy’s butt.”

Hot lights shined down on the ring, leaving the round dinner tables in relative darkness. A cute co-ed in a swimsuit stepped through the ropes and circled the ring with a sign that read “1.”

“How much did you bet?”

“A thousand dollars . . . and I can’t afford to lose it.”

DING!

We were up. As the announcer went through the drill, the fighter looked right through me, no emotion, no anger, nothing.

And then we were at it, dancing around each other in the ring, trying to gauge skill level, strengths and weaknesses. He came at me soon, quick jabs at my face, trying to get in close enough to land something real. He’d had training; I was certain of that, probably a year or two in a gym like Frankie’s, the place where I had learned. But he wasn’t a pro. That much I knew within fifteen seconds.

He threw two jabs and followed with a straight right at my head. I rocked back and felt the air on my face as his punch missed by an inch. I countered perfectly with a right hook to the side. The punch landed hard enough for people at the tables to hear. A chorus of “whoas” sounded from those who watched. We had the crowd’s full attention now.

We were both good enough to know the score. He was stronger, but I was faster and had better skills. Barring something unusual, I should win. Based on those factors and my knowledge of Neil’s bets, I developed my plan for the fight. Fight Night matches went three rounds maximum. I would dance around the ring for the first two rounds, taking his jabs and counterpunching when a clean opportunity presented itself. In the third round, I would crank up the pace in hopes of winning.

He wore bright orange silk pants to match his tattoos and had a hairline scar over his right eyebrow. He had a big flat nose and brown angry eyes. His footwork was good, up and back, side to side, always moving, but he telegraphed his punches.

I stole a quick glance at my fraternity’s table. Rose’s seat was still empty. A few of my frat brothers stood to shout encouragement.

“Come on, Joe!”

“Knock his head off.”

A left hook came hard, and I dipped my right arm to block it. Whew. Too close.

The bell rang to give us sixty seconds of rest, and then we were back at it. The second round unfolded much like the first. I scored me with a slight advantage, just where I wanted to be going into the final round.

In the break, I sat on the stool while Neil wiped my face with a damp cloth. My eyes strayed back to the table. Still no Rose.

“Stop that!” Neil slapped me. “Now look, Josephina, it’s time to ditch the wimpy act and crank it up. You need to knock this guy out.”

“I’m not trying for a knockout.”

“Are you crazy? You can kill this guy.”

“You shouldn’t have made the knockout bet. This is Fight Night. We throw a few punches, have a few laughs, and everybody goes home.”

Neil looked over his shoulder at my opponent. “You think that’s how he’s playing it?

The fighter didn’t look tired, and if anything, he looked meaner than he did at the start.

“Maybe not, but that’s how I’m playing it.

DING!

My feet were comfortable, the shoes a perfect fit. I sped up my footwork. The fighter noticed. I worked in closer, throwing a few jabs of my own to keep him busy.

I worked in a left hook to right hook combination that caught him by surprise. Slam! His eyes winced at the pain, and he shook his head to clear it. I backed up to let him breathe a little.

“Hit him, Joseph! Go on. Knock him out!”

The ringer came at me quick and threw a southpaw roundhouse punch that I easily slipped to the outside. I countered with a straight right to his head. The punch landed just above his eyebrow and snapped his head.

He was a street fighter. If we had been in the alleys of south Dallas, he would have beaten me, no question. He would have used his superior strength to throw me to the ground and kick me senseless. But we were in the ring, and there were rules.

He came at me with another wild swing, a nervous look in his eyes. I blocked the punch and countered with a solid uppercut. A loud crack rang through the room. The crowd gasped. They sensed my victory at hand, but I backed away again.

I gave him a second to recover and stole another glance at the table.

There she was, my beautiful Rose. She wore a white dress that showed off her dark complexion. The frat boys around her cheered, but Rose stood quiet, her shapely figure compelling, and her brown hair falling around her shoulders. On her face was a look of serious concern. I wanted to tell her I was fine . . . everything was going to be okay.

I turned my head back with an instant to spare. There was no time to put up a glove, barely enough time to lift my shoulder and scrunch my chin behind it before the wild punch slammed full into my temple.

WHAM!

I was on the canvas. I don’t remember putting my arms up to break the fall. All the sound shut off. The lights went off briefly and came back on again, but everything was out of focus. Time slowed to a crawl. I blinked and faces appeared, cheering faces, screaming at me, but still no sound. I lay still and breathed. I counted my breaths: two, three, four. Still no noise.

“One!”

There it was. The referee’s first count. I kept breathing: five, six, seven breaths. All sound returned. The cheering continued for me to get up.

“Two!”

It was a slow count, a lucky break for me. The ref was surprised by the knockdown. I inhaled deeply: eight, nine, ten breaths.

The referee continued counting out loud. “Three . . . Four . . . Five. . . .”

He sped up the pace. I glanced at the clock, just under two minutes. I’d have to work fast. First, I’d use every instant of the count to recover. I flexed my feet and hands to get ready.

“Six . . . Seven. . . Eight. . . .”

I rose to my knees and then to my feet just before he finished the count. Breathe in . . . breathe out. The referee studied my eyes to make sure I was lucid. He looked surprised.

My opponent almost ran at me, dying to finish me off. I side-stepped the charge and punched him hard in the ribs. It pushed him sideways. I bounced on my feet, faster than before. He turned to face me and ran into a left-hook to right-uppercut combination that pummeled his face. His gloves were out of position. He shook his head and came at me again.

He threw a quick jab in an attempt to recover his momentum, but I slipped it outside, stepped to the right, and hit him three times in the side.

WHOMP! WHOMP! WHOMP!

He took a couple of hesitant steps to his right and tried to pull his gloves up to face me. I danced in close and feigned a punch at his middle. He took the gloves down, and I came back with a straight right to his head, followed by a hard hook to his left ear.

His eyes grew bleary. He lost control of his legs and took two side steps that were off balance. I threw one more punch to the right side of his unprotected head. It wasn’t even a hard punch. He took one last step, and his knees buckled.

He was a strong guy and remained conscious, but he couldn’t stand any longer. He fell to his right knee and put an arm out for support. The referee was on time with the count, but it didn’t really matter; he could have counted to thirty. My opponent kept sinking until he lay on his stomach with his legs and arms flat to the mat.

I stood tall over him, my gloves at the sides, staring, breathing heavy.

The crowd screamed on and on. Neil ran in and lifted my arm high while the ref lifted the other. I stood flat-footed and continued to stare at my opponent.

First, I had been stupid but lucky. After that, his overconfidence had made it easy for me.

“You won, Joseph. You won! I’ll clear four thousand bucks.” Neil’s mouth was at my ear to be heard above the noise. “Friends forever, Joseph. Friends forever!”

END

Originally part of the prologue to A Just Rage, this Joe Robbins clip was deleted during editing.       – P. K.     April 12, 2018

 

 

Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

A Joe Robbins Clip — Dog Fighting

Ferocious barking came from the back of the cabin, followed by a man’s shout and then nothingdoberman-untouched. I got out of the Jeep and walked toward the door. A faded blue Mercedes sat parked in the sun. The covered porch was made of unfinished hardwood.

As I approached the porch a movement caught the corner of my left eye. I glanced that way and saw dark shapes moving across the ground, sleek, fast, and quiet. A low guttural noise came at me, interrupted by inhalations of air to feed the charge.

The Dobermans sprinted toward me, closing from a hundred feet away.

Pressure surged in my chest. I ran for the porch, my heart thumping as my toes dug into the dirt. My eyes tracked the lead dog, his teeth bared, his legs stretching fully with each stride. I stepped once more on a bare spot of dirt, and then leaped to the porch to grab an upright beam. I scrambled up the beam, sucking in huge gulps of air, my hands grabbing, slipping, and grabbing again.

I got a hand on the porch roof, the shingles tearing at my skin. The lead dog jumped, his jaws open, his body in full flight, and I shot a kick in his direction that glanced off the left side of his face. His jaws clacked shut on empty air, and he slammed into the beam. His mate ran behind him. She slowed her pace to study me. With eyes wide I pulled myself up, my other hand on the roof and legs wrapped around the beam. As my legs began to sag they fell into range. The bitch ran onto the porch and leaped from there, her jaws closing around my left shoe, pinching my heel. Her weight pulled my leg from the beam just as the male jumped again. I kicked blindly and clubbed him in the snout with my right foot. He whined and fell to the ground. The weight of the bitch stretched my arms as I kicked at her, finally landing a hard enough blow to loosen her jaw.

I wrapped my legs around the beam again, my chest heaving, while the dogs barked insanely. They took turns attacking, snapping jaws at the apex of their leaps. Each time they jumped my stomach tightened, my legs retracted, and I stared as their jaws snapped. My arms ached. Sweat stung my eyes. I had battled them to a temporary stalemate, but how long could I hold on? No more than a minute, maybe two.

A man laughed.

He strode toward me at a leisurely pace. He wore work boots, khaki pants and shirt, and a safari hat. A dog leash hung from his right hand. He shook his head as he continued to laugh, big chuckles that crashed against the cabin and thundered out to the hills.

“My, my. You’re up a tree.”

“Get your dogs off me.”

“Lady. Heel.”

The bitch immediately left the porch and stepped to her master’s side, silent. The male kept barking and jumped again, his jaws snapping as they closed on empty air inches from my leg.

“Brad. Stop that.”

Brad barked again, coiled for another attempt. His master deftly looped a choke chain around his neck and pulled him from the porch.

“You can come down now,” he said.

I eyed the female suspiciously.

“She won’t attack unless I give her a command.”

Unwrapping my legs, I dropped to the porch, exhausted and out of breath. My hands shook; I leaned to press them against my knees. I focused on breathing in and out, inhaling lungsful of air, until I could stand upright again.

“Those dogs are vicious,” I said.

“They’re protective. You’re trespassing.”

“You should post a sign on the gate.”

“Yeah, I meant to do that.”

The bitch sat obediently at his side, panting. The male growled low in his chest and struggled against the chain.

“Anyway,” he said. “Why are you here?”

For the first time I studied the man carefully. Tall. Blond hair. He looked a little different without the fedora and sunglasses, but I recognized him.

“Hey,” he said. “I know you. I’m not talking to you.”

Suddenly, standing there, still breathing heavy, it all seemed worth it: the hours of driving on back-country roads, the frustrating answers from county clerks, even the mad scramble to stay clear of the dogs.

Lady began to growl. I didn’t worry much about her so long as Brad stayed on the leash. One dog I could handle. Two were a problem.

“You’d better talk to me,” I said. “You help me, and I’ll put serious coin in your pocket. You don’t, and I promise the police will be out here tomorrow.”

Lady continued to growl. Cunningham considered my offer with a snarl on his face. If he made a move toward Brad’s leash, I planned to run two steps and kick Lady hard in the stomach.

He smiled an ugly smile. “Or I could just let these dogs loose and watch them tear you to pieces.”

“Do you really want to add murder to your résumé? Murder? Or would you rather make some money?”

He cocked his head to one side as if listening for something. For a moment I thought he was going to unleash Brad. Lady thought so, too, for she stood on all fours and growled louder. We remained like that for long seconds, with me ready to move on Lady, Lady readying herself for battle, and Cunningham trying to decide what to do.

“Lady. Heel.”

The dog obediently returned to a sitting position. I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.

“Is there someplace we can talk more peacefully?” I said.

 

This thriller scene was taken from chapter 20 of A Siren’s Love.

 

Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.

 

A Joe Robbins clip — Suicide at the Driskill Hotel

As we walked through the front door, the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage drew near. We stepped down to the brick sidewalk and turned left. In the middle of the sidewalk, just outside the entrance to the hotel, was an azure pump with a three-inch heel lying on its side. “Look at that,” Rose said. “Someone’s lost her shoe. It’s like Cinderella.” She turned to look at the carriage. “Where is she?”

Just then the shoe’s twin dropped on the sidewalk, almost hitting Rose. At first I thought someone on the balcony above us was throwing their clothes over the side, but when Rose turned to look, she drew a quick breath. The smile on her face disappeared, instantly replaced by fear.

I hurried to look, my pulse quickening.

iPhone July 2013 535

The inciting incident occurs on the balcony of Driskill Hotel

Above the sidewalk in front of the Driskill was the large balcony that extended out from the ballroom-level floor. Above that, a second balcony extended from a master suite on the fourth floor. Standing on the concrete rail of that higher balcony, in her azure dress and bare feet, was Amanda Sorenson.

I stared at her without blinking. I raised my hands, palms open, every muscle in my body tense.

She stared straight ahead and took the ballerina’s first position, her arms circled in front. She did a plié and then lifted her right leg straight up in a stretch; her raised hand touched the heel of her foot. She had replaced the strand of pearls around her neck with a thick, dark choker.

My heart pounded at my ears.

“Amanda!” I shouted, stepping closer. “Get back from there. It’s dangerous.”

She must be drunk, but no . . . she didn’t appear drunk; her movements were sure, but at the same time dreamlike.

The carriage behind us stopped, and concerned voices talked in whispers. Passersby pointed. For the first time Amanda noticed that others were nearby. She looked down at Rose and me and smiled.

“Step back!” I shouted again. My throat was dry, my voice hoarse. “Amanda! Step back.”

But she didn’t. She smiled at me again, gave the slightest wave, and jumped. As she began to fall her dress floated around her thighs.

I lunged forward with arms outstretched, as if to catch a child.

A sickening snap sounded, like a flag blowing in a stiff breeze, only lower and dull. The woman in the carriage screamed. Amanda Sorenson hung between the two balconies; what I thought was a choker around her neck was actually a rope. An acid feeling rushed through me. The pounding in my ears moved to my brain and pressed against my skull. The sound I had heard was the rope snapping taut.

She made a grim spectacle in the light from a nearby lamp. Her feet quivered a few seconds and were still. Those pretty white arms hung to the side. Her blond hair covered her face. Inanely, I wondered if her toenails were painted the same azure color as her dress and shoes and fingernails.

 

This excerpt is from Chapter Two of A Fateful Greed.

 

Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.